Jim Gavin says military background enhanced his leadership qualities

Dublin manager Jim Gavin and Kerry boss Eamonn Fitzmaurice shake hands after the All-Ireland SFC final in Croke Park, last Sunday. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE

Dublin manager Jim Gavin says his military background is a key influence on his leadership style with the All-Ireland champions.

“We have a very open culture, if they’re unhappy they can ask us to leave. Simple as that.

“It’s two-way. We’re there to facilitate. That culture’s from the Defence Forces - service not self. In the military there’s people above you and below but you’re there to serve.

“You have to have a vision and ours is simple, to be the best we can be. Simple as that. If you’re consistent with that, it can be that compact, but once the culture is created they can express themselves.

“We give them a framework in a tactical sense, we don’t want fifteen robots playing for Dublin. We have a structure, sometimes we get it wrong but once they express themselves that’s the key.

Speaking at the BGE Business Conference, Gavin added: “Emotional intelligence is very important, the ability to read a dressing-room is key.

“I wouldn’t be one for roaring and shouting but you need to raise the voice the odd time to snap them back into the moment. You pick that up over time, you get a sense of the energy, the atmosphere when it’s crackling - it was like that Sunday, but also very focused.

“At half-time we were four up but there was no talk of the outcome, just a focus on the process.” Gavin, a former Air Corps pilot, expanded on the military influence.

Jim Gavin
Jim Gavin

“One of the first things I learned in military college was what Napoleon said, that leaders give people hope. I’ve been moulded by the military and am proud to say so. All of that sense of representing your community . . . I’m retired now from the Defence Forces, but the service, the discipline, the humlity, honour, respect - that’s what I’ve tried to imbue in the Dublin set-up, Respect for the opposition, the match officials and to be the best we can be.

“As a coach I’d see myself as a magpie, going to various people, getting ideas from people, contextualising that through my own life circumstances.

“The challenge is to put the key points together. If you can pick one or two key bits, that’s the challenge. Continuous learning is key. I’ve a roomful of books at home and I don’t read them all but I flick through them, adding layers on layers. The game plan for Dublin four days ago won’t be good enough next year. I’m well aware of that.”

Gavin also referred to the positivity in the Dublin camp.

“The first thing we do is to look at what we do well, to try to learn lessons. We’ve always said when we stay static we don’t grow, we won’t succeed. We went after that, what we did well.

“We have a very positive outlook, my role and that of management is to serve the team. I’m a big fan of Maslow, and am a big fan of self-actualisation. We were the best we could be against Donegal last year but it wasn’t meant to be. That’s sport. It was just about good enough against Kerry.” The Dublin boss also explored motivation within sport: “For me it’s about the why, not the what.

“Why do they (Dublin footballers) play? They don’t live a professional lifestyle, they’re all back at work now, but they prepare professionally. There are no financial rewards, so what drives them is pride, the parish, the club, and the love of the game.

“The players are accustomed to expectation, we don’t see it as pressure but as an opportunity.

“Very early on in my time in Oglaigh na hEireann, when my head was shaved, I met the great Dermot Earley, who was an army officer.

“I was 18 and hardly knew who he was, but I remember his first words to me - the biggest reward is doing something well and to the best of your ability. That’s what we said to the Dublin players.” Gavin also stressed the importance of being “honestly critical” of players.

“Accountability is key. To get to players to the top level you have to be honestly critical. I come from that culture in aviation, where debriefing is done as a matter of routine.

“That’s the forum I’d use, to look at what we did well, but the big lesson is being honest. It’s the only way the playerswill learn, to grow - and to protect the team from decline. Whether they’re a superstar or number 26, you need to treat them all the same.”

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